Earlier this month, we spoke with Nina Gregori, Executive Director of the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), about the Agency’s multifaceted work to address statelessness. Ms Gregori outlines EUAA's integration of statelessness into training, tools, analysis, and awareness-raising for officials across the EU. She also reflects on the progress made in getting statelessness on policy agendas and expresses hope that with perseverance and partnerships, statelessness can be eradicated in Europe.
Why does addressing statelessness matter to EUAA, and what steps has it taken to tackle the issue?
The European Union Agency for Asylum is tasked with facilitating and supporting Member States in the implementation of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). To this end, we provide various forms of operational and permanent support to them. This also enables convergence in the assessment of applications for international protection. Throughout our activities, we consistently cover the issue of statelessness, for example in our training activities, our practical tools and guidance and in our analysis and situational awareness, all of which are widely used by asylum officials in the EU+.
For me, the issue of statelessness is very much linked to the current pressure on asylum systems in the EU+. Last year, Member States registered some 1 million applications for international protection, and this year we will likely surpass that number. These applications come on top of the almost 4 million people who fled Ukraine and who are benefitting from temporary protection in the EU at the moment. This all puts a tremendous strain on asylum and reception systems and authorities in the Member States, and this is also the reason why we currently provide operational support to 13 Member States in total.
We see that top countries of origin for applicants in Europe are Iraq and Syria. Both of them have historically large stateless populations. A failure to identify or address statelessness in the asylum procedure can result in missing a real threat of persecution, leading to an unwanted or adverse outcome of the procedure for an applicant. And in terms of access to rights, being registered as stateless can in itself have a big impact on the nationality rights of the applicant’s children, and on their access to rights such as family reunification and naturalisation.
To avoid such adverse outcomes for applicants, and to support Member States in addressing challenges in their asylum registration and assessment processes, we simply need to cover the issue of statelessness in full – as we consistently do.
Our research shows that problems faced by stateless refugees often stem from a failure of identification at their point of arrival in the EU – can you tell us what EUAA is already doing about this, as well as how this can be better monitored in the future?
Indeed, statelessness and all kinds of related issues and challenges should be tackled already at the very beginning of the asylum procedure, and at least when an application is lodged.
Specifically related to statelessness at the point of registration, we incorporated the issue as an important element of our practical guide on registration. This tool aims to support Member States with the registration of applications for international protection. It was created by EU+ experts, with valuable input from the European Commission, the UNHCR and also your organisation, the European Network on Statelessness (ENS). Furthermore, we are planning a training module focusing on statelessness in the context of registration.
Keeping an eye on progress at the stage of registration here is key, as this will also allow us to determine any need to adjust our activities to increase efficiency or to address deficiencies. Therefore, I can only fully support the ENS’ own research to continue, of course.
What can EUAA do to help address the current lack of awareness and resources available to refugee response actors?
The core of the EUAA’s mandate is to support Member States. In that sense, we have a unique gateway to asylum officials in the EU+ to address common issues, also in the spirit of working towards convergence of practices as I mentioned before. I can illustrate how this works in practice for addressing the issue of statelessness with two examples.
In terms of training, we are currently drafting a training module on statelessness and inclusion in international protection, together with your organisation, the European Network on Statelessness (ENS), and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee. This module is designed for Member State asylum officials to increase their awareness of forms of persecution that are statelessness-specific, and to enhance their capabilities in assessing applications submitted by stateless people. We also aim to integrate statelessness into existing modules in a broader context.
I also mentioned analysis and awareness before. Our analysis and awareness products are among the most notable sources of information we have for policy makers in the Member States. We have the EUAA’s annual Asylum Report, which offers a comprehensive overview of developments in the field of asylum, and which includes a section focusing on issues of statelessness in the context of asylum. Our Country of Origin Information (COI) reports, available to asylum officials throughout the EU+, also provide information on the situation of stateless people in their country of habitual residence.
With the various forms of support we provide, and most notably the two forms of support I just mentioned, we can effectively and efficiently address statelessness and related challenges with the right audience in the asylum context. This way, we not only increase their awareness, but also their competences and abilities in dealing with this issue.
The war in Ukraine has exposed how the protection needs of stateless refugees are often ignored. Can you tell us a little bit about EUAA’s response to Ukraine more broadly, as well as well as any specific measures taken to protect displaced stateless people?
I first would like to note how proud we should be of the EU wide response to displaced persons from Ukraine. Member States have shown so much resilience in hosting large numbers of refugees. And with the Temporary Protection Directive (TPD), we have allowed these refugees a large degree of say over their own lives. Temporary protection provides perspective and stability, it allows for swift integration in local communities. And most of all, it does not overburden asylum and reception systems.
Of course, the unjustified Russian invasion of Ukraine brought a lot of changes to Europe and to the EUAA. We are currently supporting 9 Member States with the implementation of the TPD in an operational manner specifically. This for example means we help them with screening and registration, information provision, interpretation services, early identification of persons with special needs and support to flow management.
Our support does not stop there. We still perform analysis and drafts prognosis reports to ensure constant situational monitoring and preparedness. We have also provided training – both existing modules and newly developed ones on TPD – to both experienced and newly recruited staff. Here, you need to consider that Member States also engaged authorities that are not the traditional asylum authorities.
Furthermore, we developed guidance, for example a practical tool for Guardians on Temporary protection for unaccompanied children fleeing Ukraine, and Practical recommendations on private accommodation for persons displaced from Ukraine. Finally, a large strand of our activities covered information provision and communication. This ranges from information provision on the ground to developing information leaflets and social media campaigns.
I think the current crisis has highlighted various issues in access to protection for stateless people. Think of the lack of documentation precluding access to relevant processes, or the unequal application of the TPD to stateless persons. The ENS and its partner organisations have produced excellent resources to increase understanding of the complexity of issues faced by stateless persons from Ukraine. In our own products regarding Ukraine and the protection needs it generated, we have included insights from this ENS research before, and we have also directed our readers to the ENS website for more resources.
What makes you hopeful that statelessness can be eradicated in Europe?
I think that the ENS has been very successful in putting this issue on the agenda throughout Europe and beyond over a short timespan. The broad and dedicated involvement of high-level policy makers, for example during the pan-regional conference on statelessness in Madrid you invited me to participate in last June, is testament to this. Altogether, this should make us quite hopeful.
I personally believe perseverance is key in addressing difficult challenges. I can think of countless examples from my experience in Slovenia, or now as Executive Director of the EUAA, where careful analysis, dedication and determination have helped bring resolve in the end. With the ENS as a trusted adviser we will continue addressing statelessness in all our forms of support.